home1.gif (2214 bytes)

In Six Days: Why 50 Scientists Choose to
Believe in Creation

Edited by John F.Ashton, Ph.D. New Holland Publishers (Australia) Pty. Ltd., 1999.

Reviewed in the Skeptic (Vol 19, No. 2) by Dr Colin Groves

Science is a process of finding out. Pseudoscience is a process of collecting evidence to support a prior belief. Science tests a hypothesis by seeing if it fits the available data; if it doesn’t the hypothesis will be discarded or modified. Pseudoscience tests data by seeing if they fit the favoured hypothesis; if they don’t, it is the data (not the hypothesis) that will be discarded or modified. As creationism is the most pervasive (and, arguably, the most blatant and most harmful) example of a pseudoscience, it is difficult to see how any scientist could be a creationist.

For years now, creationists have been uttering two mantras. One is that evolution is in terminal decline (cf. Michael Denton, 1985, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis; J.W.G.Johnson, 1981, The Crumbling Theory of Evolution; A.E.Wilder-Smith, 1981, The Natural Sciences Know Nothing of Evolution). As you can see from the dates of these books, the mantra in its slightly different versions has been trotted out a intervals for nearly twenty years now, yet evolution shows no sign of any crisis, nor of crumbling, and the natural sciences know as much of it as they always have done.

The other mantra is that "more and more scientists are turning to creation". I have always doubted this one too; it is after all somewhat oxymoronic for reasons given above, but that people with scientific training could nonetheless be creationists, well, it seems unlikely but unfortunately it is possible. I myself have no experience of colleagues who are creationists; I must know, personally, hundreds of my co-workers in various biological fields, and perhaps the same number again by correspondence, and I have never yet detected a whiff of creationism. Religious believers there are in plenty. If the Curator of Mammals in a certain European museum invites you to dinner, you know not to pick up your knife and fork before grace has been said (and his predecessor was actually a priest). A retired geology professor of enviable reputation (and an ardent creationist-hater) is a Presbyterian elder. A note worker on the evolutionary ecology of Primates is a Unitarian minister. And what it is about being a Jesuit that promotes an interest in palaeontology I know not, but some renowned experts in the fossil record and evolution of this or that group of mammals have the little s.j. after their names. Pious or pagan, all of them will sit and discuss the evolution of the group they or you are working on, and I have not yet winkled a single creationist out of the woodwork.

But now, it seems, our challenge has been answered, our bluff has been called. Here are 50 scientists - sorry, 50 people with scientific training and often working as professional scientists - who have been discovered by John F.Ashton, PhD, to be creationists, and persuaded by him to tell us why. So let us learn from the experience: who are they, what is their expertise and training, and why indeed are they creationists?

Most of the fifty are Australians or Americans; there is also the odd Brit, Canadian, South African or German. Their testimonials, which vary from two to twenty pages long, are divided into two groups, "Science and origins" and "Religion and origins", but there is not really very much difference between the two. There are 9 biologists, 13 others connected with the life sciences, and 28 working in other sciences. Of the "other life scientists" (not strict biologists), five were trained in biochemistry, two in medicine, two in horticultural/agricultural science, and one each in genetics, organic chemistry, forestry and orthodontics. Of the 28 - the majority - trained in some field other than the life sciences, we have six trained in chemistry (not organic), five in some form of engineering, five in some branch of physics, three in meteorology, three in geology, two in geophysics, and one each in mathematics, geography, hydrometallurgy and information science. One might well ask what precisely an inorganic chemist or a hydrometallurgist might know about the evolution of life that would qualify them to speak about it with knowledge and wisdom, and one of the engineers, Stanley A.Mumma, quite unashamedly admits that his profession is unusually prone to creationism: "Engineers quite often need confidence in the literal accuracy of the Genesis account, while people educated in many other disciplines are quite satisfied to take it as allegory" (pp.300-1). But about a biologist or a geologist one can have no doubts: in theory, at least, they have the training and experience to know what they are talking about.

Some fairly famous names are there: Andrew Snelling, who recently left AiG in Brisbane for greener pastures in the USA, Jonathan Sarfati who has taken his place, Jack Cuozzo who recently published a book on Neandertals, John Morris son of Henry (one of the founders of creationism), and Kurt Wise. These are famous not (as creationists would have it) for being top-rank scientists, but for being creationists. Some, like Jack Cuozzo, may be highly competent in their own restricted fields, or, like Kurt Wise, have quite a high reputation for honesty among professional scientists, but there are no world leaders here; they are not a Who’s Who of the sciences.

Let us right away quibble with one of the inclusions. I think we ought to remove one name from the list: Bob Hosken, Senior Lecturer in Food Technology at the University of Newcastle. He writes with equanimity of taking part in studies on amino sequences of monotremes and marsupials which elucidated their phylogenetic relationships: "While these findings were very interesting", he writes (p.111), he was much more excited by relating molecular sequences to physiological requirements: "I cannot help but attribute the complexity of the design to a Creator, rather than to random evolutionary forces". Read his words carefully: do you see a creationist in them? I think I see someone who believes in a sort of divinely guided evolution. I think that here is the result of the way creationists have hijacked the language; that when the editor asked "who believes in creation?", Dr Hosken put up his hand, because he believes in a God. So, let’s leave him out and make Ashton’s total 49, though if someone should later make the case for restoring him to the list, it will not make much difference overall.

Put them in perspective a bit. Of those nine biologists, five were trained at least in part at religious foundation universities or colleges of one kind or another: one at Loma Linda, one at Pacific Union College, one at both Andrews University and George Mason University, two at Wheaton College (and one of them at Houghton College in addition); only four received their entire training at what I’d call "proper universities", and some of them specify that their classes in evolution were poor in some way - a hectoring or poorly prepared lecturer, for instance. Of the 12 (excluding Hosken) others connected with the life sciences, four were trained at religious institutions (Loma Linda and Andrews again, Dordt College, and Loyola University), and eight at "proper universities". Of the other 28, only three trained at religious institutions (Loyola again, Loma Linda yet again, and Phillips University), and all the rest went to mainline universities, polytechnics and so on. Could there be some significance here? Might it be that a biologist is much less inclined than others to be a creationist unless actually trained at an institution with a creationist tendency?

And how did they become creationists? Not all of them reveal this. Of those who do give their histories, no fewer than 17 were brought up as creationists; one was converted while he was in the U.S.Navy, before starting university; five were converted during their university careers; four were converted later in life (one of them by his wife). It is fair to say that, inasfar as one can tell from reading their own words, all of those who were converted were already devout, and simply waiting to be pushed; friends, fellow students or colleagues would confront them with key passages from scripture and demand that they think about how, given this bit of sacred writing, they could possibly believe in evolution or an old earth. Let us note that not one of them purports to have become a creationist as a result of his or her own research.

And what is the evidence which they deem crucial, either in maintaining their creationist views, or having converted them in the first place? 24 cite "irreducible complexity", which they take as evidence for design; seven mention thermodynamics (two cite both thermodynamics and complexity); three cite problems with the Big Bang and the evolution of the early universe, and one with radiometric dating; one cites a lack of rigour among "evolutionists"; one says he was converted by reading creationist writings, and others imply this, as they list all kinds of spurious "evidences" which could only have come from such sources (moon dust, helium in the atmosphere, sediment on the sea floor, that sort of thing). Eleven, almost certainly more honest than the rest, admit in so many words that they simply wanted or needed to believe.

Those who cite thermodynamics as a reason to believe rely not so much on the famous Second Law (increasing entropy), traditionally used as an argument against evolution, as on the First. Why should it be especially meaningful that energy/matter is neither created nor destroyed? Because in Genesis 1 it says that God created everything in six days and that was it - no more since. The Bible, you see, correctly describes the state of affairs!

"Irreducible complexity" is rather new. After their defeats in the U.S. courts, which regarded the allocation of "equal time" for creationism in biology classes as tantamount to sneaking a religious view into the schools, creationists anxiously sought some other way. The publication in 1996 of Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe, a biochemist, gave them what they were seeking. Behe maintained that much of the complexity in living things could not be broken down further and still function. The buzzword for this idea, which has given creationism a new lease of life, is Intelligent Design Theory. It is extremely significant that so many of Ashton’s Fifty credit it with playing such a big part in what (for want of a better term) we may call their intellectual development.

Actually, there is nothing very new and fresh about Irreducible Complexity; it is the old God of the Gaps brought up to date by being arrayed in scientistic garb. Where you can’t explain something - usually some very complex biochemical process - you bring in God to plug the hole in your understanding. It doesn’t mean that the unexplained is inexplicable; it’s the creationist, not the scientist, who says "I cannot believe that this evolved". But it cuts a lot of ice with the general public and, as we can see, with some who should know better. Richard Dawkins has a pithy phrase to describe it: "the argument from personal incredulity".

Amid all the appeals to Irreducible Complexity and the laws of thermodynamics, there are some remarkable and revealing flashes of honesty. All creationists should read the five-page piece by Ben Clausen, who says that the evidence on the age of the earth is not by any means clear-cut:

(1) The scientific arguments are complicated and equivocal.

(2) Demonstrating that certain data don’t require long ages doesn’t prove a short-age model to be best.

(3) More of the scientific data is currently explained by a long-age than a short-age model.

(4) No comprehensive geologic model fits all the data, so that problems with a long-age model do not necessarily mean that a short-age model is correct.

(5) No comprehensive, short-age model is even available to rival the long-age model.

(6) Ultimately, any biblical short-age model would be expected to include some supernatural activity, immediately making it unacceptable as a scientific model at all.

(7) Accepting the Bible because certain scientific models agree with it increases the likelihood that the Bible will be discarded if those particular models are later found to be inadequate. The scientific details of origins questions are interesting to study, but equivocal. I do not find the evidence for a recent creation compelling. My primary reason for accepting the scriptural account is the part it plays in the Bible’s characterisation of the Creator. (pp.252-3).

And this from a man who has a Master's in Geology from Loma Linda University and, after getting his PhD in Nuclear Physics at the University of Colorado, has chosen to return to Loma Linda to work at their Geoscience Research Institute. This is a creationist? Well, the last sentence suggests that he yet might be (he is not quite another Bob Hosken), but if so the rest of the paragraph reads like a breath of fresh air.

Less forthright, but still quite a cut above the usual dismal crowd, is Elaine Kennedy, who begins her chapter, "As a geologist, I do not find much evidence for the existence of a fiat creation. I just have not found any geologic data that convinces me that God spoke and 'it was'" (p.293). She then goes on to say how she struggled with radiometric dating and has finally concluded that such dates are interpretations, not data, but "Those of us who believe in a short chronology and a six-day creation do not have an adequate explanation for radiometric dates" (p.294).

The chapter by Kurt Wise, despite that author's almost uniquely favourable reputation among his "evolutionist" opponents, is a disappointment. No Clausen- or Kennedy-like warnings for his weaker-brained creationist colleagues. He says merely that when he saw how much of the Bible he would have to throw away if he became a professional scientist, he turned away in sorrow from the career which he had so ardently desired.

Andrew Snelling unfortunately reveals nothing of why he fell out with Answers in Genesis (the Australian creationist institution) and went to the USA. But he does say that he is going to do some work along with Kurt Wise. Perhaps, if so, he will stop pretending to be an ordinary ("old-earth") geologist at the same time as writing clap-trap for brightly coloured creationist comics; perhaps he will stop (as his erstwhile minder, Carl Wieland, expressed it) "running with the hare and hunting with the hounds". Perhaps at last, in Alex Ritchie's words, the real Andrew Snelling will at last stand up.

Will this book promote the creationist cause as its editor obviously intends? I cannot think how it would. When all is said and done, the question which neither Kurt Wise nor Andrew Snelling nor anyone else who writes in the book - not Ben Clausen, not Elaine Kennedy, not anyone except, in a very oblique way the medical researcher Paul Giem - is simply this: why choose the Bible? Why not the Vedas? (Their gods are every bit as capricious, unjust and bloodthirsty as the one depicted in the Old Testament). Or the Rainbow Serpent for that matter? Or why not, like all those Jesuit palaeontologists, take an ethical message from the Bible and not insist that every word of what an ancient warlike Middle-Eastern tribe wrote down was historically accurate? Why this necessity to believe that the earth came into existence before the sun; to believe that a God who had found everything "good" changed his mind and drowned the lot - innocent plants, animals, children - except for a drunkard and his family? Why is this need to believe so powerful that 49 scientifically trained people are prepared to junk their principles, throw away their careers, and sink uncomplaining into a world of make-believe where facts can be invented or trimmed to suit the occasion, where reality is an illusion and illusion a reality, where you see further not because you stand on the shoulders of giants but because your pastor tells you where to look. That, my would-be colleagues, for all your scientific training is the antithesis of what science is all about; it is the sheerest pseudoscience.

home1.gif (2214 bytes)